New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: erica smith singer

Thanks for the Memories, Lakeside Lounge

Lakeside Lounge has been sold and will be closing at the end of April. After just over fifteen years in business, the bar that defined oldschool East Village cool will be replaced by a gentrifier whiskey joint, no doubt with $19 artisanal cocktails and hedge fund nebbishes trying to pick up on sorostitutes when their boyfriends are puking in the bathroom – or out of it.

Lakeside opened in 1996 [thanks for the correction, everybody] in the space just north of the former Life Cafe on Ave. B north of 10th Street in the single-story building between tenements that had previously housed a Jamaican fried chicken takeout restaurant. It was an instant hit. Owners Jim Marshall (a.k.a. The Hound, an astute and encyclopedic blues and soul-ologist with a great blog) and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (of the Del-Lords, and eventually lead guitarist in Steve Earle’s band) had a game plan: create a space that nurtures artists rather than exploiting them as so many venues do. And they stuck to that plan. Before long, Lakeside had become a mecca for good music. For several years, there was literally a good band here just about every night with the exception of the few holidays when the bar was closed. Artists far too popular for the back room would play here just for the fun of it: Earle, Rudy Ray Moore, Graham Parker, John Sinclair, the Sadies, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby all had gigs here, some of them more than once. Dee Dee Ramone hung out here and eventually did a book signing on the little stage in the back, with people lined up around the block. Steve Wynn had a weekly residency here for a bit (which was amazing). The place helped launch the careers of countless Americana-ish acts including Laura Cantrell, Amy Allison, Mary Lee’s Corvette, Megan Reilly, Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, Tammy Faye Starlite and Spanking Charlene and sustained countless others through good times and bad. And as much as most of the bands played some kind of twangy rock, booking here was actually very eclectic: chanteuses Erica Smith and Jenifer Jackson, indie pop mastermind Ward White, punk rockers Ff and several surf bands from Laika & the Cosmonauts to the Sea Devils all played here.

As the toxic waves of gentrification pushed deeper into the East Village, Lakeside never changed. You could still get a $3 Pabst, or a very stiff well drink for twice that. Their half-price happy hour lasted til 8 PM. The jukebox was expensive (two plays for a buck) but was loaded with obscure R&B, blues and country treasures from the 40s through the 60s. Countless bands used their black-and-white photo booth for album cover shots. Their bar staff had personalities: rather than constantly texting or checking their Facebook pages, they’d talk to you. And they’d become your friends if you hung out and got to know them. Some were sweet, some had a mean streak, but it seemed that there was a rule that to work at Lakeside, you had to be smart, and you had to be cool.

But times changed. To a generation of pampered, status-grubbing white invaders from the suburbs, Lakeside made no sense. The place wasn’t kitschy because its owners were genuinely committed to it, and to the musicians who played there. It had no status appeal because it was cheap, dingy and roughhewn, and Ambel refused to book trendy bands. Had they renovated, put in sconces and ash-blonde paneling, laid some tile on the concrete floor, kicked out the bands and brought in “celebrity DJ’s” and started serving $19 artisanal cocktails, they might have survived. But that would have been suicide. It wouldn’t have been Lakeside anymore.

There won’t be any closing party, but the bands on the club calendar will be playing their scheduled shows. Ambel plays the final show at 9 on the 30th. Before then, stop in and say goodbye to a quintessential New York treasure.

Kami Thompson – A Surprise, Or What?

Spawn.

That’s what musicians derisively call the sons and daughters of famous rockers. Sean Lennon, anyone? How about Brian Wilson’s obese daughter? And wasn’t there a Howlin’ Wolf Jr.? Actually, there were probably a whole bunch of Howlin’ Wolf Jr.’s, but there was a particular one who took credit for being that man.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that the children of great musicians can’t be great musicians themselves. But those are few and far between. Probably the best example is Amy Allison (daughter of Mose). Rosanne Cash has written some great songs and is also a fine singer; Jakob Dylan had a good run back in the 90s; Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) is a sensationally good drummer, and Whitney Houston (daughter of Cissy) once had a hell of a voice, regardless of how you feel about her material or her tortuously public plunge into the abyss.

So with her debut album Love Lies, Kami Thompson has set herself up for a fate even crueller than what happened to Lana Del Rey (remember her fifteen minutes?). The daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – whom many consider to be the greatest songwriter and the greatest singer of the past forty years – she faces being held to a standard that’s just plain unfair, that few living musicians in any style of music could hope to live up to (though the same thing happened to her artsy janglerock brother Teddy, who’s been able to carve out an audience for himself). Beyond that, it’s hardly cynical to emphasize that if she didn’t have such celebrated bloodlines, there’s no way, at her age (probably close to thirty) that she’d be signed to a major label (Warner). Yet she not only doesn’t embarrass herself: she proves to be not only a solid tunesmith, but also a fine singer. Like her mom, her voice is unadorned, pure, and at its best, genuinely haunting. The way she’ll take a little leap at the end of a phrase, insistently or indignantly, and then let the note slip away like a ghost, reminds of a very young Erica Smith: she’s that good. Her songs are catchy and anthemic, and are surprisingly eclectic (part of the credit goes to producer Brad Albetta, whose signature, soaring, melodic bass and inventive arrangements have brightened several first-class artists’ albums, most notably another Britfolk-influenced songstress, Amanda Thorpe). As a guitarist, most of the learning curve is still in front of her (she doesn’t seem to be able to play upstrokes) and though she tries, her plainspoken lyrics are on the prosaic side.

Hardcore RT fans are going to want this album for the two solos he contributes here: a characteristically dark, gorgeous one at the end of the album’s best cut, the wary, forlornly janglerocking Little Boy Blue, and a much terser but equally sharp one at the end of Stormy, a big, crescendoing electric anthem that sounds like Bauhaus playing Britfolk. And there’s another solo on the catchy, backbeat-driven folk-pop tune Gotta Hold On that’s a good approximation. The rest of the album is diverse: 4000 Miles sets minor-key Britfolk to a reggae groove, and surprisingly, it works. Never Again is a Gillian Welch/Erica Smith style Americana ballad, while Tick Tock has all kinds of clever touches: hip-hop allusions, a tongue-in-cheek, bouncy bassline and a sarcastic chorus that nicks the chords from PiL’s This Is Not a Love Song. The album ends with Want You Back (the Beatles via Elliott Smith); Blood Wedding (pensive and plaintive, “I lost my youth to a broken heart,” a thread that runs through most of these songs); and then just the Beatles themselves (Don’t Bother Me, done as a high-quality, high-spirited demo). If this is the only album Kami Thompson ever does, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; let’s hope there’s more where this came from. Ladies and gentlemen, fire up your browsers.

In Memoriam – Sean Dolan

Sad, sad news on the NYC front – songwriter/lyricist Sean Dolan left us a couple of days ago. The prolific underground writer is best known for his lyrics to Erica Smith’s All the King’s Horses and Jesus’ Clown; he also leaves behind a vast body of brilliant work, both musical and literary. More in a moving and insightful appreciation from Erica Smith at her blog.